Last week we previewed the NFC East, and today we move to the NFC South. With Drew Brees' retirement, this officially becomes Tom Brady’s division. The defending Super Bowl Champions are the heavy favorites at (-175), yet incredibly will be looking for their first division title since 2007. Beyond that we get to see the post-Brees era out of New Orleans, where they return most of their roster from last season… except for their iconic quarterback, who was replaced officially last week by Jameis Winston. Matt Rhule is looking to break out in his second season in Carolina. Will this be Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s last dance?
Let’s break it all down.
Division Odds according to DraftKings Sportsbook:
Tampa Bay (-175)
New Orleans (+300)
Over/Under Win Totals:
Tampa: Over/Under 11.5 wins
New Orleans: Over/Under 9 wins
Carolina: Over/Under 7.5 wins
Atlanta: Over/under 7 wins
The favorite: Tampa Bay (-175 to win the division)
Over/Under Win Total: 11.5 wins
Key Players Re-Signed: TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Antonio Brown, DT Ndamukong Suh
Key Additions: RB Giovani Bernard, OLB Joe Jones, CB Antonio Hamilton
Key Departures: OT Joe Haeg, CB Ryan Smith, S Andrew Adams
Key 2021 Draft Picks: DE Joe Tryon, QB Kyle Trask, OT Robert Hainsey WR Jaelon Darden
There are going to be many people on the internet trying to predict Tom Brady’s demise, but I can promise you that will not be me. Tampa didn’t lose much from their Super Bowl winning team and they are hoping to run it back for another title run.
Brady threw 40 touchdowns last season, the second highest mark since his infamous 50 touchdown season in 2007. We handicapped Tampa Bay better than most last year, fading the newly constructed team in the beginning - then riding their hot streak all the way to the Super Bowl.
Now that Brady has chemistry with the coaching staff and his offense- I don’t see how anyone is going to beat this squad in the race for the division title. The scary part about this team is the offense may not be the best unit in Tampa. Bruce Arains has one of the best young defensive cores in all of football with Shaq Barrett, Vita Vea, Devin White, and Lavonte David anchoring the front seven. The defense is continuing to get better and I expect through young secondary pieces in Carlton Davis, Antione Winfield,and Jamal Dean to take the next step.
At (-175), I think Tampa is more or less guaranteed to win this division. They are the deserving favorites in the NFC. Overall I am not going to doubt Tom Brady. You can lock in this squad to win this division with confidence.
The second favorite: New Orleans (+300 to win the division)
Over/Under win total: 9 wins
Key Players Re-Signed: QB Jameis Winston, CB Ken Crawley, DB/ST J.T. Gray
Key Additions: TE Nick Vannett, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, FB Alex Armah
Key Departures: QB Drew Brees, CB Janoris Jenkins, TE Jared Cook
Key 2021 Draft Picks: DE Payton Turner, LB Pete Werner, CB Paulson Adebo
New Orleans is a team I really don’t know how to handicap. James Winston is now the quarterback, returning to an otherwise talented team. New Orleans is ranked 10th in Pro Football Focus’s power rankings. I liked that they focused on defense during the draft. I actually think Jared Cook is a major loss. Michael Thomas will miss the first few weeks with an ankle injury and there is no clear timetable for him to return. The win total of nine is about fair. The defense will still be solid, but this team's key contributors are getting older.
Still, even with Jameis now firmly entrenched under center, this is a stay away to me.
The Dark Horse: Carolina (+900 to win the division)
Over/under win total: 7.5
Key Additions: QB Sam Darnold, WR David Moore, LB Denzel Perryman
Key Departures: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Mike Davis, WR Curtis Samuel
Key 2021 Draft Picks: CB Jaycee Horn, WR Terrace Marshall Jr., OT Brady Christensen, Chuba Hubbard, Daivyon Nixon,
The team that improved the most this offseason was Carolina. Sam Darnold offers tons of upside at quarterback; I think Matt Rhule can unlock some untapped potential there. Remember, this team went 5-11 with a new head coach and were without Christian McCaffrey for most of the season.
Rhule has turned around every program he has ever coached, including - incredibly - five win improvements in each of his last two seasons at Baylor. Yes, that's right, he turned a program mired in scandal from a one-win football team in his first year, to an 11 team that was on the brink of winning the Big 12 title in his final season. The guy can coach, and Carolina may be the one the best coached teams in professional football.
In terms of off-season improvements, last season Carolina struggled getting off the field on third down ranking 31st in defensive third down conversion rate. Drafting a physical corner in Jaycee Horn and adding an efficient run stopping middle linebacker in Denzel Perryman should help those issues.
Carolina is a team that I’m going to bet early and often. I love their over win total of 7.5 and think they can be a team that will be in the playoff mix at the end of the season.
The pick: Carolina over 7.5 wins
Atlanta (+800 to win the division)
I’m the opposite of the rest of the industry on this. Everyone is banking on a bounce back season for Atlanta, but I don’t see it. I know they lost seven games by five points or fewer, but that doesn’t guarantee that there will be positive regression.
They have to replace Julio Jones on the outside. They have to rely on Kyle Pitts stepping up to be a primary target on Day 1, and can we trust Calvin Ridley to be healthy? Matt Ryan is still an above average professional quarterback, ranking 12th in the PFF preseason rankings, but Atlanta ranked 31st in defensive yards per play. They were the worst red zone team in professional football last season.
Maybe the additions of Davis and Pitts boost those numbers on the offensive end. But on defense, Atlanta has a bottom 10 defensive line and secondary as well. You can’t win being bad at both. While many think there is a turnaround in site, I’m betting on consistent dysfunction.
I’m locking in Atlanta under seven wins and for them to finish 4th in the division at +120, a bet unique to Draftkings.
Atlanta will be in a position to draft a high QB to replace Matt Ryan next season.
The bet: Under 7 wins AND Atlanta to finish last in the division: (+120)
If you missed our NFC East preview, click here.
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